Tag Archives: Jews

Just like his father

September 1264 - December 1264
Clement IV
Clement IV

The legate’s interference put enormous pressure on the English prelates who had thrown in their lot with Montfort. With the threat of excommunication hanging over their heads, they went back and forth across the channel with overtures for a permanent settlement, but to no avail. The legate was still implacably hostile when he was forced to return to Rome upon the death of the pope in October. Elected the new pope, he continued his rant against Simon from the Holy See, calling him and his family “pestilence”. In an effort to demonstrate their independence, the bishops demanded and received redress for the losses they had incurred during the war, some of it notably at the hands of Gilbert de Clare. His men had wreaked havoc wherever they went, including slaughtering the Jews of Canterbury. The royalists had been equally depraved in their march through farms and hamlets, and the widespread disorder posed the greatest threat to the provisional government. Henry had always made it a point of pride that England enjoyed nearly fifty years of peace under his rule. Now he was a captive, reluctantly putting his seal to the decrees and ordinances placed before him as Montfort attempted to stabilize the situation. But the majority of magnates, none too pleased at being dictated to by one of their own, remained aloof or hostile. Clare grew disaffected when Simon thwarted his claim to Richard as a hostage, and more so when his insistence on Edward’s release was vetoed. He especially looked amiss at all the power and property Simon was concentrating in the hands of his family. Gilbert felt cheated out of the spoils, and slighted that he, the earl of Gloucester, should be marginalized in favor of the Montfort sons. “It’s ridiculous,” Clare declared, “that this alien should presume to subjugate the whole kingdom.” By reminding one and all that the government was in the hands of an alien, who he claimed was garrisoning royal castles with other aliens, Gilbert was attempting to promote himself as the true defender of the Provisions.

The road to Lewes

1264
Lewes battlefield
Lewes battlefield

As usual, the initial fighting broke out in the west. Henry de Montfort scored an early triumph by bottling up Edward in Gloucester, but then unwisely accepted his cousin’s call for a truce. He had no sooner withdrawn his forces when Edward sacked the town and slipped away, causing Simon to bitterly reproach his son. The king meanwhile began gathering a large army at Oxford, where one of his first acts was to expel the student population. His intention, he explained, was to protect them from the savagery of his Scottish allies, but in fact he was clearly miffed by their true sympathies. Henry’s growing strength allowed him to brush aside a last-ditch offer by his opponents to respect Louis’ ruling on every point except the alien officials. The advantage was all his after he seized the Montfortian stronghold of Northampton, which was betrayed by local clergymen. The loss was devastating. Among the eighty barons and knights made prisoner were the younger Simon and many leading members of the movement. Montfort refused to despair. “War is such that the advantage first goes to these, then to those,” he declared and followed up by predicting that the enemy would be consumed by fear and confusion before May was out. London, however, was gripped by panic as word spread it was about to be betrayed like Northampton, resulting in the plunder and massacre of the Jews. As royalist forces burned and butchered their way through local hamlets, Simon attempted to draw them south by laying siege to their garrison in Rochester, whose inhabitants were subjected to a similar bloodletting. With barely London left to the reformist party, Simon gambled everything on seeking out and giving battle to the king. The two sides squared off in Sussex, with the royalists encamped in and around the village of Lewes and the Montfortians eight miles away in Fletching. Simon sent his bishop friends to Henry to reiterate his offer of peace if the king would observe only the provision prohibiting alien officials, sweetening it now to include 30,000 marks in compensation. Henry was inclined to accept, but Richard, aggrieved that his property had been ransacked, was against it, as was Edward. The one-time idealist and reformer declared that peace was only possible if his uncle and the others came to them with halters around their necks.

Unmindful of his own honour

January 1264
Louis in all his glory
Louis in all his glory

A truce was to be observed during the course of arbitration. Henry being Henry, he ordered Roger Mortimer, an exceedingly violent man even for a marcher baron, to attack Simon’s manors in the hope of preventing his adversary from attending the proceedings in person. He knew the reformist side hinged on Montfort’s powers of persuasion and his friendship with Louis. In the end, all it took was a hole in the ground. While heading south for Dover, Montfort suffered a broken leg when his horse stumbled and fell. Forced to stay behind, he was no doubt confident the king of France would still rule close to his original affirmation of the Provisions. Louis, however, stunned everyone by completely nullifying them in his Mise of Amiens issued on 23 January 1264. Acting “unmindful of his own honour,” in the words of one chronicler, he declared that Henry had the right to appoint any official he saw fit, whether native-born or not. He tried to evade responsibility by insisting that the pope had nullified the Provisions first, then hedged by assuring the people of England that Magna Carta was in no way affected by his ruling. Sworn to abide by the award, Simon and his associates justified their continuing resistance by arguing that the Provisions were founded on the principles of Magna Carta. Louis’ betrayal, which was variously attributed to bribes, nagging or some concerted action with the papacy, rankled deeply. “Though all may forswear me, I will stand firm with my sons in the just cause to which my faith is pledged,” Simon proclaimed, adding gloomily that of all the lands he had been to, never had he met with more treachery than in England. But he did get some help when Gilbert de Clare finally decided to join forces with him and London remained firmly committed to the reformist cause. Civil war was now inevitable.

Blood money

1255
Lincoln-Cathedral-West
Lincoln-Cathedral-West

Six months earlier Henry had sold the custody of the Jews to Richard so that he might “disembowel those whom the king had skinned.” The situation did not bode well for the Jewish community when Henry arrived in Lincoln. He no longer had a financial interest in protecting them and the boy’s mother was still in control of public opinion. The king ordered his steward to investigate, a learned man renowned for his understanding of the law. But John of Lexington was also the brother of Henry of Lexington, the bishop, and his investigation involved little more than extracting a confession from Jopin, whose life was guaranteed in return. Henry took issue with the deal and declared that the wretch deserved to be executed many times over. Only one sufficed, as the unfortunate man was dragged behind a horse to a waiting gallows. Nearly a hundred other Jewish men were arrested and sent to the Tower, where 18 were hanged for refusing to submit to trial by an all-Christian jury. The others took their chances and were also condemned, but were later freed, or ransomed, after the intervention of Richard and the Minorite Order.

Jew’s Court

Jew's Court
Jew’s Court

Known as Jew’s Court, this house in Lincoln was long considered the scene of the crime. In 1910, the owner had a well dug in the basement and charged visitors to come and see where the body of little Hugh was found.

A boy named Hugh

1255
Blood libel
Blood libel

On 31 July a fatherless boy named Hugh disappeared in the city of Lincoln. Told he was last seen playing with some Jewish boys, his mother insisted he had been kidnapped and crucified as part of a macabre ritual mocking Christianity. While such stories were widespread at that time, the authorities never gave them much credence. Even the papacy had come forward to denounce them. As the bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste had never been a friend of the Jews, but he was equally intolerant of injustice and superstition. He was in his grave now, where miracles were supposedly being worked, and the new bishop of Lincoln, Henry of Lexington, saw an opportunity when the boy was found, a month later, supposedly in a well owned by a Jewish man named Jopin. The canons of the cathedral had the body whisked away for burial next to the exalted Grosseteste, thereby doubling the recent fame of the diocese. Meanwhile the mother had taken her case to the king, who was in the north attending to reports that his daughter Margaret, the teenage queen of Scotland, was being mistreated by her handlers. Upon hearing the appeal of the mother, Henry decided that if the accusation was true, the Jews deserved to die. If not, she did. Unbowed, she begged him to come to Lincoln and see for himself.

Pay or quit the kingdom

1243
Jews persecuted
Jews persecuted

There was nothing like a wedding to bring out the best in Henry and he used the occasion of the recently widowed Richard’s nuptials to welcome his sister and brother-in-law back into royal favor. The bride was the queen’s younger sister Sanchia. She had been betrothed to the same count who had tried to turn Henry against Simon, but his poverty and pettiness paled next to the immensely wealthy Richard. Like Queen Eleanor, she arrived with no dowry to speak of, and her mother would, in fact, hit Henry up for a loan while there. But she would also move him to make significant progress on his sister Eleanor’s dowry, thereby improving relations between him and Simon. None of this available money saved the Jews from footing the bill for the wedding and the subsequent feast thrown for thirty thousand hungry people. Each Jewish family was instructed to make a donation that didn’t include, it goes without saying, a corresponding invitation.

Always the Jews

1231
Charter expelling the Leicester Jews
Charter expelling the Leicester Jews

The expedition was a total failure. Young Henry looked splendid in his armor until dysentery took hold of him and forced him to sail back. Simon was not able to demonstrate any military prowess but did make the overtures necessary to regain his father’s former title and estates. And so, with Henry’s blessing, Montfort was on his way to becoming the Earl of Leicester. One of his first acts was to expel the Jewish population from his newly acquired domains. While insisting he was doing it for the good of his soul, Montfort was also coming under the influence of Robert Grosseteste, a leading scholar who applauded the move in both biblical and economic terms. The Jews were widely condemned for practicing usury and Montfort was no doubt currying favor among his new tenants by presuming to do something about it. In the end, the handful of Jewish families moved to that part of Leicester held by his great-aunt Margaret. She offered them sanctuary, much to Grosseteste’s dismay, and there they remained until Henry’s son Edward expelled the lot of English Jewry in 1290.